If the going isn’t good, don’t rush to be the retiring type

Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson
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First Ferguson, now Beckham, two top figures in their field are retiring – but we should think carefully before following suit, says Grace Hammond.

FOR years, most of us have viewed retirement as the light at the end of the tunnel, the ultimate prize after decades of hard work. But new research suggests the later in life we retire, the better the outcome.

It’s food for thought for most Britons as we all face working into our late 60s and beyond just to make ends meet in our twilight years. But staying in a job beyond 60 or 65 needn’t be such a bad thing for our private lives and our health.

According to fresh findings, retirement increases the likelihood of suffering from depression by 40 per cent, while the chances of being diagnosed with a physical condition rise by 60 per cent.

The study, by the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Age Endeavour Fellowship, showed there was a small boost in 
health immediately after retirement, but over the long term it deteriorated.

The chair of Age Endeavour Fellowship, Edward Datnow, recommends: “There should be no ‘normal’ retirement age in future. More employers need to consider how they will capitalise on Britain’s untapped grey potential and those seeking to retire should think very hard about whether it is their best option.”

The recent announcement of the departure of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and soccer star David Beckham from the game provides two contrasting case studies.

The former is 71, the latter 38. Both are at very different stages of their lives, but, interestingly, both have marriages to factor into the equation. According to the experts the impact of retirement on your relationship is something you dismiss at your peril.

For long-married couples – particularly where one partner has been a workaholic – retirement can also raise the daunting prospect of suddenly spending a lot more time with someone who you might not know as well as you used to.

Sharing the same space as each other for longer periods of time can heighten those little things that annoy you about each other and create tensions over dividing up house chores.

Cathy once said of Sir Alex: “When he’s under your feet, it’s a nuisance. If he’s here too long, he gets in my road.”

So perhaps Cathy Ferguson’s reason for persuading her husband to keep going at 
United was partly self-preservation. She also clearly knew that however much she’d like to spend more time with 
him, he’d be happier staying at Old Trafford.

Being a manager was much, much more than a day job for Sir Alex. It was his vocation.

But it took its toll on his marriage to Cathy, who’s three years his senior. From the day he was appointed back in 1986, they saw less and less of each other. He even forgot birthday and Christmas presents and she once tore up a cheque he’d popped into a Christmas card at the last minute.

In contrast Beckham has always juggled family life with football and his multiple side-projects ranging from endorsements to his own fragrances.

Although David and wife Victoria are a walking, money-making brand as a duo, they now face the prospect of spending even more time with each other – and that brings with it well-documented potential problems.

For example, in Japan, where ‘salarymen’ work ridiculous hours and often sleep at the office, there’s even a phenomenon called ‘retired husband syndrome’ where couples who’ve been together more than 30 years end up getting divorced because they’re suddenly forced to spend more time together and the wife gets annoyed that her husband doesn’t start helping more around the house.

As a result, marriage counsellors in Japan actually recommend couples try and spend shorter bouts of time together to ease the transition, such as going on day trips rather than cruises.

It makes sense, as going from barely ever seeing somebody to being with them all day, every day is bound to be intense. Retirement is a big change and, as with most big changes in life, most of us need time to adapt to them.

Anticipating potential difficulties in advance, and having a plan in place, is a great idea.

Sir Alex has already confirmed there will be plenty to keep him occupied. “I have a lot of things to do, a lot of projects,” he has said.

“My son, Jason, has been organising a few things, my ambassadorial role at the club and a directorship, so I won’t be sitting still, believe me.”

Meanwhile Beckham has yet to fully outline just what he’ll do once he’s played his last match. What he has said is: “Now is the right time to finish my career.” But only time will tell if it was the right thing to do for his health and his home life.